With 21 teams having secured a place in the first round of the UEFA Cup already this week, the final 39 places in Friday's draw will be determined today when the remaining qualifying round second-leg matches conclude.
Tuesday saw FC Schalke 04, Villarreal CF and AC Perugia win through from the UEFA Intertoto Cup, and four others enter after losing in the final UEFA Champions League qualifying round. Twelve more followed down that route yesterday - including BV Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle United FC - while FK Viktoria Žižkov and Groclin Grodzisk Wielkopolski achieved aggregate victories in UEFA Cup qualifying.
The two former European champions in action today experienced differing results in their first legs. FK Crvena Zvezda of Serbia and Montenegro proved too strong for Moldovan opponents FC Nistru Otaci, winning 5-0 in Belgrade to guarantee breathing space. FC Steaua Bucuresti have no such luxury after a 1-1 draw in Belarus against FC Neman Grodno.
'No small teams'
Although Steaua have vowed "not to understimate" their opponents, coach Victor Piturca remains confident the Romanian team will triumph on home territory, saying: "There are no small teams any more but we will qualify." Midfield player Sorin Paraschiv and striker Laurentiu Dinita are missing through injury but otherwise the squad is at full strength.
The only other club playing on Thursday to have won a European competition, the 1970 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup winners Manchester City FC, beat Total Network Solutions FC of Wales 5-0 a fortnight ago. RC Lens, who were in the Champions League last season, also won comfortably, 3-0 at home to Georgian side FC Torpedo Kutaisi, yet coach Joël Muller remains cautious. "It won't be easy but we will be aiming to get at least a draw and hoping to win," he said.
Sweden's AIK Solna face an anxious 90 minutes in Iceland against Fylkir after a 1-0 success in Stockholm. AIK coach Richard Money said: "We just have to win - it's as simple as that." As do Portuguese challengers UD Leiria after their 2-1 away defeat by Irish Cup holders Coleraine FC. Excitement is also building at Hungary's Debreceni VSC, who expect to sell out for the visit of FK Ekranas after a 1-1 draw in Lithuania.
Finally, it appears the president of Estonia's FC Levadia Maardu, Viktor Levada, does not envisage his side overturning a 3-1 home loss to NK Varteks. Angry at their first-leg showing, he refused to pay for the team to fly to Croatia and they have instead travelled by bus, having set off on Sunday. Coach Tarmo Rüütli said: "We are to blame - we should have played better in the first leg."
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